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Salud mental

versión impresa ISSN 0185-3325


MENDEZ, Milagros. Role of endogenous opioid systems in alcohol reinforcement and dependence mechanisms. Salud Ment [online]. 2013, vol.36, n.3, pp.211-218. ISSN 0185-3325.

Biochemical and behavioral evidence indicates that the dopaminergic mesolimbic system plays a key role in the mechanisms of reinforcement and reward elicited by alcohol (ethanol) and other drugs of abuse. In addition, the dopaminergic activity of the nigrostriatal pathway has been proposed to determine brain sensitivity to ethanol, a process which could be associated to drug addiction. Besides dopamine, several neurotransmitters and neuromodulators are involved in ethanol reinforcement, including gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), glutamate, serotonin, acetylcholine and opioid peptides (enkephalins, endorphins and dynorphins). Ethanol and opioids share several pharmacological properties and exhibit similar behavioral effects in animals and humans. These and other studies suggest that the alcohol reinforcing properties are due, at least in part, to the ethanol-induced activation of endogenous opioidergic systems. This activation could in turn increase the hedonic value and the reinforcing effects of the drug. Thus, ethanol-induced changes in opioidergic transmission could contribute to alcohol intoxication and to the neuroadaptive responses produced by the long-lasting exposure to the drug. Opioidergic transmission may be altered by ethanol at different levels, including biosynthesis, release and inactivation of opioid peptides, as well as binding of endogenous opioids to their receptors. Several studies suggest that mu and delta opioid receptors play a key role in ethanol reinforcement and dependence. Therefore, enkephalins and (β-endorphin could mediate ethanol actions in the brain and play a major role in high alcohol drinking behavior. During the last years, our research group has focused on the role of the endogenous opioid systems in these processes. Evidence obtained in our laboratory suggests that enkephalins and (β-endorphin differentially and selectively participate in ethanol reinforcement and dependence.

Palabras llave : Alcohol (ethanol); reinforcement; dependence; endogenous opioid systems; enkephalins; β-endorphin; mesocorticolimbic system; nigrostriatal pathway.

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